Drawing on anthropology, religious studies, history, and literary theory, Plagues, Priests, and Demons explores significant parallels in the rise of Christianity in the late Roman empire and colonial Mexico. Evidence shows that new forms of infectious disease devastated the late Roman empire and Indian America, respectively, contributing to pagan and Indian interest in Christianity. Christian clerics and monks in early medieval Europe, and later Jesuit missionaries in colonial Mexico, introduced new beliefs and practices as well as accommodated indigenous religions, especially through the cult of the saints. The book is simultaneously a comparative study of early Christian and later Spanish missionary texts. Similarities in the two literatures are attributed to similar cultural-historical forces that governed the 'rise of Christianity' in Europe and the Americas.
'... a brilliant book ...' British Medical Journal
"One thousand years apart, Christianity's rapid rise in Europe and in Mexico coincided with plague and social dislocation, but this was no coincidence. Crossing disciplines with apparent ease, Daniel Reff offers a fresh, erudite, and compelling explanation of how Jesuit missionaries in Mexico advanced their cause by echoing the rhetoric and strategies of early Christians." David J. Weber, author of The Spanish Frontier in North America and the forthcoming, Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment
"Scholars have spent a generation abjectly recognizing that they cannot fully understand 'the other'. Now it is time to re-recognize that we are all members of the same species. In Plagues, Priests, and Demons we see that Europe in the first centuries AD and Mexico in the first post-Columbian centuries suffered similar pandemics and population crashes, and reacted similarly by accepting a new religion." Alfred W. Crosby, Professor Emeritus in American Studies, History and Geography, University of Texas at Austin
"This work of original and innovative scholarship juxtaposes conversion to Christianity in late antique and medieval Europe and in early modern New Spain. Exploring the self-awareness of Jesuit missionaries in New Spain who viewed themselves as the successors of the churchas earliest saints, Reff traces links of theological imagination and pastoral practice that span centuries and an entire ocean. Simultaneously, he explores the experience of conversion from the vantage point of the people who chose it, and describes their circumstances. Dread of cataclysmic change --whether the end the Roman or that of the Aztec empire-- and of disease, death and demonic agency went hand in hand with the emergence of new bonds of piety, charity and community. An admirable, thought provoking book awaits the reader." Sabine MacCormack, University of Notre Dame